The real story that media outlets should be chasing isn't what Roberts did or didn't do on board a United flight in April, but whether there is any truth to longtime assurances from airplane makers like Boeing and Airbus that critical avionics systems aboard their aircraft are unreachable from systems accessible to passengers, the Christian Science Monitor writes. (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Passcode/2015/0518/Did-a-hacker-really-make-a-plane-go-sideways)
And, on that issue, Roberts' statements and the FBI's actions raise as many questions as they answer. For one: why is the FBI suddenly focused on years-old research that has long been part of the public record.
“This has been a known issue for four or five years, where a bunch of us have been stood up and pounding our chest and saying, 'This has to be fixed,' " Roberts noted. “Is there a credible threat? Is something happening? If so, they’re not going to tell us,” he said.
Roberts isn’t the only one confused by the series of events surrounding his detention in April and the revelations about his interviews with federal agents.
“I would like to see a transcript (of the interviews),” said one former federal computer crimes prosecutor, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If he did what he said he did, why is he not in jail? And if he didn’t do it, why is the FBI saying he did?”
Josh Corman, the chief technology officer at the firm Sonatype, said the media and security industry's focus on Roberts' actions is a distraction. Mr. Corman, who is the founder of IAmTheCavalry.org, (https://www.iamthecavalry.org/) a grassroots group focused on issues where computer security intersects public safety and human life, said that the real question was about the safety and reliability of airplane avionics systems.
"The message has been that nothing the customer can do in the passenger cabin can affect the avionics," said Corman. However, the FBI affidavit (http://aptn.ca/news/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2015/05/warrant-for-Roberts-electronics.pdf) suggests otherwise, citing interviews with Roberts going back to Februrary.
"So we're getting a mixed message about what can and can't be done," Corman said. "Either planes are not hackable, or they might be...irrespective or regardless of the veracity of [Roberts] claim."
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